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Invisible Effects

Rethinking Writing through Emergence


Chris Mays

Invisible Effects directly engages systems and complexity theory to reveal how the effects of writing and writing instruction work in deferred, disguised, and unexpected ways. The book explains how writing and language that exist in "writing systems" can indirectly (though powerfully) affect people and environments in sometimes distant contexts. In so doing, the book takes on a question central to rhetoric and writing throughout its long history but perhaps even more pressing today: how do we recognize and measure the effects of writing when those effects are so tangled up with our complex material and discursive environments? The surprisingly powerful effects explored here suggest new ways of thinking about and teaching writing and the applications, lessons, and examples in the text precisely model what this thinking and teaching might look like.

This book is primed to serve as an important addition to reading lists of scholars and graduate students in Writing Studies and Rhetoric and should appear on many syllabi in courses on writing and writing instruction and on rhetoric, both introductory and advanced. As well, the book’s advocacy for the unrecognized potential impact of writing instruction makes it appealing for writing program directors and any potential university faculty, administrators, and non-academics interested in the importance and the efficacy of writing instruction. This book is also a useful resource for scholars and graduate students specializing in Writing Across the Curriculum, as the text provides a useful way to shift the conversation and communicate about writing across disciplines.

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1 Writing Effects, Where No One Notices


I find it hopeful and heartening that so many compositionists are directing their attention toward working with students on public writing out of a belief that such writing can matter in tangible ways.

—Nancy Welch, “Living Room: Teaching Public Writing” (474)

In short, rhetoric will be seen as the entire range of resources that human beings share for producing effects on one another.

—Wayne Booth, Rhetoric of Rhetoric (xi)

Writing has been richly theorized for quite some time as something that can have transformative effects far beyond its point of origin. Rhetoric and writing scholar John Trimbur, for example, over 20 years ago called on the field to attend to how “rhetorical transformations” occur in an environment in which texts are continuously circulating (213). Since then, scholarship on the movement of texts has accelerated, with a variety of theorists in Rhetoric and Writing Studies showing both that texts circulate widely and that they can exert substantive effects in diverse situations. Laurie Gries (whose work on rhetorical circulation was discussed in the Introduction) ←35 | 36→has called “circulation” itself an “emergent threshold concept” in these fields (5). And Jenny Edbauer Rice (whose work on circulation in rhetorical ecologies was also discussed in the Introduction) has suggested that “the dimension of movement” should be considered a central component of the traditional rhetorical situation (20). In so doing, these and many other scholars have revealed that texts and their rhetorical effects are constantly circulating in...

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